Australian Fine Artist

Analogous Colour

David Chen’s 9 Monthly Art Workshops

These notes are from my second all day workshop with David Chen. Each full day covers over five hours of theory and practical work, and are planned by David to help us to understand an important aspect of planning, composing and creating our paintings so that they not only look beautiful but also look “right” as far as tonal contrast, perspective, composition, colour mixing and application of our paint.

I am not expecting to copy David’s style, even though I think it is stunning, but wish to learn from his years of experience and training to improve my own painting techniques. My style has been less than I want for a while and I feel that my paintings are lagging behind my pastels and drawings even though I have been painting with oils much longer than I have been using artist’s pastels. Somehow I am much looser with the pastels and layer the colours on more effectively. I am hoping that by learning from David I can learn to make one stroke work instead of many and broaden up the strokes with cleaner colour and a more impressionistic look to my finished paintings. There are some aspects of his style that I am keen to add to my own to get it to the standard that I am happy with. Hopefully by the end of this year I will be well on my way.

Day Three

Workshop Plan:

  • The five colour schemes
  • Analogous colour schemes
  • Demonstration (seascape done in all one warms and then in cools)
  • A warm analogous scene – paint a scene in warm colours (an autumn scene for example)
  • A cool analogous scene – paint a scene in cool colours (a seascape for example)
  • Practice
  • Paint-on critique

What is Analogous Colour?

When learning about colour and how to use it and be creative with colour, we often just go to copying or trying to, nature or subjects around us.

Observational art is good for training the eye. You learn to create shapes accurately and transpose them on to paper or canvas. After you have started to master this process, what then? This is where you start to push your materials and your creativity.

Does the sky always have to be blue? Does a tree always have to be green with a brown trunk? We know even from nature that tho is not the case, so why not push it even further?

Let’s go back to the basic colour wheel. This is where an understanding of analogous colour begins.

colour wheel, tonal values

Often when we decide to paint we try to include complimentary colours. Which are those using opposites on the colour wheel. For example blue and orange or red and green. Analogous colours draw from the same side of the colour wheel and never exceed 5 steps in a direction. So if we decide to use warms starting with red as I did for this exercise, and go to the warm side of the colour wheel, I would be choosing from Cadmium Orange, Cadmium Yellow and Burnt Sienna (the tertiary colour on that side of the wheel). We were asked to select only three colours for our exercise and these are what I decided on.

For the cool colour exercise, I chose Ultramarine Blue, Cadmium Green (which I mixed myself as I didn’t have a tube of it) and Viridian plus white. I also chose to paint the same subject but by using the previous painting as a reference and not the photo. This way I was able to loosen up my application of paint even further and not be so precise, enabling concentration on what the colours were doing. The subject and composition became, for this exercise, of lesser importance.

Keep in mind that you also have all the tonal ranges of these colours to use by the addition of white, so you are not as restricted as you may think at first. In one way, taking away the confusion of colours (as so many are out there) leaves you free to be more creative with your painting. If you keep in mind your tonal values the colours are not of any importance.

This is a great exercise to show up your colour bias when painting. With me I had a good idea that I was biased towards cool colours and I was correct. This just means that more practice painting in the warm side of the colour wheel will make me better as a tonal artist no matter what the colour I am using. I will be free then to use any colour I like for any subject and get an excellent and believable result.


Try painting a scene with only 3 colours from one side of the colour wheel plus white. The colour straight out of the tube will be your darkest tone, and you can lighten it using the white to get as many values as you like. You can also mix two of these colours with each other, then start adding white which gets you even more colours and tones. Choose any subject and paint it with these colours. It doesn’t have to be photo realistic, in fact use the photo as a guide only, not as the rule to stick to. It may be a good idea to discard the photo after you have the basic idea and paint creatively and not as a slave to your reference.

During these exercises composition is not the aim, I was totally unconcerned with creating a finished painting but learning the lesson of using the colours.

Below are the 2 works I did at the workshop. They could always be improved but I was not aiming at completing a finished artwork, but at practice pieces. They reflect process and not completion and as such I am happy. You may note that I have a wider tonal range in my cools than the warms and the modelling on the “vase” is much better. This of course may also be attributed to the fact that this was the second work of the day and I was more awake! It was also my second stab at the same subject so I had worked out a few of the kinks from the first. But I should have realised that the background was too light and I could have modelling the vase better in the warm painting in reds, yellows and red/browns.

IMG_1535 IMG_1534

David looked at all our works at the end of the day and showed us where our paintings could be improved. Apart from a couple of little marks at the base of one, he left my work alone and showed it to the class (especially the cool work) to show how the paint and colour could be manipulated. He did say my weakness for the warm colours needs some practice but was sure I can master it! I was more than pleased that he thought I had done well on the day.

I have promised that I will spend some time during the next month practising on my warm tones at TAFE, so on painting days get ready for some warm paintings based on this shortcoming I have discovered in my method!

Thank you David for another fantastic workshop!

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